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The Library of Scottish Philosophy: Volumes 1 – 6, Exeter: Imprint Academic, James Otteson, ed. Adam Smith: Selected Philosophical Writings, pp. Paperback Aaron Garrett · Journal of Scottish Philosophy 3 (2) ().
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And so they don't have to act admirably to get people to admire them. And so--Smith sees this as a really illiberal part of our psychology, that this tendency to admire the rich, when the rich really, for him, don't tend to be very admirable people. And there's one other part of commercial life that we haven't talked about, that you talk about in the book, that was really the most startling for me, because I just had missed it in Smith; and it's in Hume as well. I'm going to read a quote from your book.
You say the following: If asked to nominate the single most important passage in The Wealth of Nations , a reasonable candidate would be the climactic claim of Book and here you quote the Wealth of Nations --commerce and manufacturers gradually introduced order and good government. And with them, the liberty and security of individuals, among the inhabitants of the country, who had before lived almost in a continual state of war with their neighbours and of servile dependency upon their superiors.
This, though it has been the least observed, is by far the most important of all their effects. That's the end of the quote from Smith, and from your book. Now, I would disagree with you. I don't think anyone would name that as the single most important passage in the Wealth of Nations. You can defend that if you want. But, it was the single most illuminating passage you quote from the Wealth of Nations for me, as a casual Smith scholar.
Because, I think, if you had asked me, or most people to think about Smith, liberty, and economics, they'd say: Laissez faire, of course he's not an anarcho-capitalist. Smith had a--he's a classical liberal. He had a role for government. But definitely a role for government. And, so that's what I would have said. But what you are pointing out is that Smith actually argued something equally interesting and maybe much more profound. Which is, that the causation runs the other direction.
That, the increase in commerce and standard of living and commercial life, in Europe in particular, led to liberty. Brought about the liberty that is cherished for its own sake. So, give us Smith's argument. And then talk about how Hume also said similar things and to what extent they disagree. And you can defend your claim if you want--that's it's the single-most, one of them more important passages, in the Wealth of Nations.
No, I'll stick to my guns and say this is the single most important. The reason why I'll say that--I mean, Smith says it quite explicitly, there. He says, "This, though it has been the least observed, is by far the most important of all of commerce's effects. And that it's--exactly what you just said. That it promotes liberty and security in a world that had seen very little of that So, how did that--what's the chain of causation? Because most people would say, 'Well, what does that mean? How could that be? So, he's contrasting commercial society with the feudal era that had preceded it in Europe.
And to some extent still existed in his own backyard with the Scottish Highlands. But really, with--throughout Europe, he thinks, during the kind of middle ages there's this feudal system where you have these great landowners who exercise basically complete authority over the peasants or serfs who work their land.
The King's power isn't really strong enough to reach into their estates, so they can do whatever they want. So, Smith runs through--and just shows that the miserable condition of these serfs. They are unable to--they are kind of bought and sold with the land. They can't move freely. They have to work at whatever occupation their lord tells them to do. They have to get their lord's permission in order to get married, if to follow their lord into battle whenever they are told to do so. And, the story that Smith tells in Book III of the Wealth of Nations is about how these feudal lords ended up squandering their authority over their serfs for the sake of frivolous luxuries.
So, the idea is: Once commerce started to pick up, once you have more manufactured goods, once you have more luxuries, the lords have something on which to spend their money other than maintaining all of these serfs--one that Smith said, that immediately adopt out of greed and vanity. So, he says that for something as frivolous as a pair of diamond buckles, they trade all of their, they spend all of their money; they can no longer afford to keep all these serfs.
And they--it's a long, complicated story. The kings and the city-dwellers kind of gang up against the lords in order to bring them down a peg. But, basically it's commerce that plays this function Right, the importation of luxuries--does in the feudal system. So that once you get a commercial society, yes, an employee might want to please his or her employer in order to keep their job. But, you know, you are very unlikely to surrender your rights to your employer--follow them into battle whenever they want to do so. So the kind of--the interdependence of the market allows this personal freedom, personal independence that you just didn't get in those previous eras of human history.
So, this is his[? With the advent of commercial society. It's--taken basically directly from Hume. Hume doesn't go into as much detail as Smith does about the story. Nor does he make it nearly as central, I think, in his thought as Smith does. But you find this very abbreviated in one of Hume's essays; and then in a couple of the different volumes of The History of England , Hume tells a similar story. So, in that passage that you read just a minute ago, immediately after saying--this introduction of liberty and security--"This, though it has been the least observed, is by far the most important of all of commerce's effects.
Hume is the only writer who I know who has taken notice of this before. He might be referring more to the specific mechanism, the way commerce leads to the downfall of the feudal lords, where, I think he is drawing from Hume. But it is striking that, in this passage--that, again, I'm still saying, is the most important one in the whole Wealth of Nations --he basically says: Hume got there first. Hume had this idea before I did. And I want to--I want to stand up for Mr. Smith here just a bit. I don't want to overstate this point that a lot of--it's a fact that Hume influenced Smith.
Smith, of course, had read Hume. And many ideas that are in Smith are in Hume. And many ideas from other--we wouldn't call them economists. They wouldn't think of themselves as economists. But there are other people writing--Mandeville and others who Smith obviously was influenced by. But I don't want to understate Smith's contribution, either. And so, I want to just--I'm going to make my own sort of summary of it, and then you can chime in or disagree if you'd like. But, I think, often, there's a temptation to see an author's contribution as--in the form of a tweet: He understood that specialization was important.
What we call the invisible hand. And, as you point out--you use the example from The Theory of Moral Sentiments , as an example: Yes, the idea that morality comes from our selves. That was in Hume. So, that's not novel to Smith. But, Smith's treatment of it is very novel. Smith's treatment of it, an extension of it--his--we'll come back and talk about it a little bit more later, but there are other aspects of--it's a rich book.
It's not like you'd read Hume and then, as you're reading Smith, go, 'Oh, I read all this. I knew all this already. So, I always find it interesting when people will show disdain for a book that I particularly like, saying, 'Oh, well, I knew all that before I read it. And I think that's extremely important.
And it's easy to under-appreciate it. And I think that the Wealth of Nations is also a great example of this. So, I point out: So definitely not itself on the division of labor. Hume takes almost no notice of the division of labor. Which is of course really central in Smith. But, Hume is arguing for free trade decades before the Wealth of Nations appears, saying, 'What's the true source of a nation's wealth?
It's not gold, it's not silver; it's not a positive balance of trade. It's a productive citizenry. Free trade is to the benefit of all parties involved; you can't get rich by beggaring neighboring countries; and so on. So, Hume's one of the first thinkers to argue for free trade. And anticipates--I don't know that he sort of got his idea for free trade from Dugald Stewart's, his first biographer's really insistent that Smith always really wanted to assert his originality on this score, that he had had this idea long ago, starting with his [?
So, I'll say that Hume anticipated Smith even if he's not Smith's source for argument for free trade. But, as you say, putting it all together in one package, in the Wealth of Nations , this monumental argument against mercantilism, made it quite a bit more influential than Hume's scattered essays were, could have had. And it's more than that. It's not just that Smith said, 'Free trade, good, mercantilism bad,' and people went, 'Oh, that's interesting. One of the things that always bugs me is when people say, 'Well, Smith was in favor of x. Say, public financing of education.
So, Smith says, 'Yeah, this is justified because education leads to lots of benefits. And that's not a bad idea. And then, as you point out, in The Theory of Moral Sentiments , Smith, even though he draws a lot on Hume, has his own vision, that's quite compelling. And probably more intellectually appealing of where our sympathies come from. Hume has the contagion idea; and Smith rejects it.
Talk about that--that contagion argument of Hume's for where sympathies come from and how Smith viewed it. So, let me just start by saying--I've been sort of making a case here that Hume's writings on political economy have been unduly neglected in favor of Smith's. He's seen as a kind of minor predecessor of Smith when it comes to economic thinking, if he's taken notice of at all. I'm trying to make a case for his importance there. I make the reverse case when it comes to moral philosophy. So, among philosophers, Smith's moral theory has long been see as almost a series of footnotes to Hume's, and not all that important.
It's starting to come around; philosophers are starting to pay attention to Smith. And I think they really should, because I think Smith's advances on Hume's moral theory are substantial and important; and I think, frankly, persuasive. So, the point that you asked me to discuss: Both of their moral theories rely on what they call 'sympathy. The way Hume describes sympathy, it's basically just a mechanism that transports emotions from one person to another.
I see you're really happy; you've just gotten a long-awaited promotion; you're really happy; and I see that, and it makes me happy. Or, you've just lost a loved one; you are very sad; I see that and it makes me sad. And, as you note, he sometimes calls this even an emotional contagion: And, the whole first chapter of The Theory of Moral Sentiments is arguing that that's not quite right.
That, sympathy can't work in that straightforward fashion. So, Smith gives the example of anger. You don't become angry when you see an angry person. Maybe if you learn what made that person angry, maybe you would become angry. It depends on if their anger is warranted. And he says this is true even of the kinds of examples that Hume used of joy and sorrow: So, you can imagine two individuals who are exhibiting just identical signs of anguish.
And then you learn that the first person, that all the anguish is provoked by a paper cut. And the second person, it is provoked by the death of a spouse or loved one. You are obviously much more likely to sympathize with the second person than the first. But, on the Humean view, they are both exhibiting identical signs. Presumably we should be catching--you know, in this contagion-like way--catching their feelings in the same way. And Smith wants to say, 'No. It's by imaginatively projecting yourself into their situation that you really get a sense of, or you can really come to share--or maybe not share --their sentiments.
Because sympathy takes place in this more complicated way, we don't just catch people's feelings, whatever they happen to be. There's space for us to say whether their emotion is warranted. The person with the paper cut, the great grief that they're feeling wasn't warranted in that case. And so there's more room for judgment of people's emotions in the Smithian understanding of sympathy. And, of course, Smith has some incredibly subtle things to say about our ability to sympathize with people's joy. He says, sometimes your joy, I can't share in it, over a big thing. You know, and there's an enormous range of who I can share those things with.
It might just encourage jealousy in certain situations. And certain types of sorrows, you don't share, because the people around you can't sympathize with them, either. And so, again, it's our quick thumbnail of yours or mine of how Smith viewed sympathy or whatever it is, is never going to capture the richness. Now, maybe it's in Hume, also. We're also not capturing the richness of Hume's treatment.
But, I just think it's interesting how people are quick to dismiss things like this, by saying, 'Oh, yeah; that was already done. Talk about the so-called 'Adam Smith problem. I want to hear yours. Some people have argued it's weird that the Wealth of Nations is, I think, to paraphrase George Stigler: It's built on the bedrock of self-interest, was the way he put it--something like that--where, it's an edifice built on the bedrock of self-interest.
There's very little of empathy in the Wealth of Nations and there's very little--there's some self-interest in The Theory of Moral Sentiments , of course, but all the things we talked about in terms of the corrosive aspects of wealth pursuit kind of go mostly unmentioned in the Wealth of Nations. So, how do you understand the connection between these to great works? I guess I--I'm never struck by the supposed incompatibility in the way other people are.
I think--I mentioned a while ago the drawbacks, dangers, of commercial society, that Smith pointed to. A lot of those come from the Wealth of Nations --the worries about the division of labor, the worries about merchants, you know, ganging up and harming the public interest and so forth. There's quite a bit of worries about commercial society and trying to find ways to ameliorate them, even in the Wealth of Nations. It doesn't all come from The Theory of Moral Sentiments. I guess, to be honest, I don't have anything that profound to say about this. They are just books on different topics.
One is a book on moral philosophy: How is it that moral standards arise? What does morality consist of? The other is on political economy: How should we organize economic life? What was the role of government in all of that? And so, of course the emphases are going to be different, because they are books on different topics. But, I've never seen the big, yawning gap between the two that many others seem to have seen.
Well, I think the question is, given that we are empathetic--we have limited ability to empathize but we do empathize--which is Smith's view of human nature in The Theory of Moral Sentiments , it's interesting that it plays little or no role in the Wealth of Nations.
But I think the reason is that, the Wealth of Nations is about trade, and trade writ large.
Where I'm dealing mostly with strangers, and my ability to empathize is going to be relatively small. I think there are other interesting connections between the works, two works--I wrote a long essay on it. If I get it done in the near future I'll try to put a link up to this essay. But, I agree with you, fundamentally. It's not as big a puzzle as it's often made out to be. Let's talk a little bit about religion. A good chunk of your book is about Hume's identity as the infidel--as you call him in the title--the heretic who is very, very critical, certainly in much of his writing and in his private, personal life as well, of organized religion and how the contributions of organized religion.
Smith, on the other hand, is much more favorable--as is, ironically or not, Hayek, even though Hayek also was an atheist. Hayek saw religion as a force for good in the world. Smith concedes--unlike Hume--there are some good things about religion; but masks or cloaks his own religious views somewhat. For a variety of reasons. So, talk about the two personality differences and their careers on this issue, and where you think, where Smith, what his real beliefs were. So, this is one of the running themes of the book, how much they diverged, at least with the public postures that they adopted with regard to religion.
So, Hume, as you say--I think 'atheist' is too strong even for Hume. He would have called himself a skeptic The term 'agnostic,' right. But he's relatively forthright about his lack of faith. Sometimes he'd sort of close this--you know, he'll put his arguments in the mouths of a character in a dialog or something. But he's really not that careful about hiding his skepticism with regard to religion. Whereas, Smith, constantly goes to great lengths in both his writings and his personal life to avoid revealing much about his religious beliefs or lack thereof. And so, one of--as I say, one of the running themes is that these contrary postures lead to equally contrary reputations.
Hume, as you say, is, you know, is this great infidel. He is, among other things, deemed unfit to teach the young. He twice applies for professorships, one at Edinburgh and one at Glasgow. But in both cases, he is turned down because of his irreligion. Whereas, Smith, who plays his cards much closer to the vest, becomes this widely respected professor of moral philosophy.
And so as you say that's the contrast implicit in the title, The Infidel and the Professor. Now, Smith's religious views--this has been the subject of a great deal of scholarly debate and controversy. There's no settled view at all on what his religious views were. Some argue that he was a good, sincere, Christian believer. Others go so far as to say that he's a closet atheist. I wouldn't go to either of those extremes. But certainly, my reading is closer to kind of skeptical end of the spectrum. So, I end up calling him a skeptical deist.
So, that is to say, more of a deist than Hume, but more of a skeptic than most people think. So, I think it's likely that he believed in some kind of distant, maybe benevolent higher power. But I think he's almost certainly not a believing Christian; that he was suspicious of most forms of religious belief in devotion. And I think this comes out in his works, in the things--in his correspondence; in other things we know about him in his life. Yeah, well I didn't realize--I'm ashamed to say--that his letter to Strahan--which is famous among Smith scholars but not to the average listener--Strahan was Smith's publisher.
So, at the time of Hume's death, Smith wrote a letter to Strahan that summarized his view of Hume, that was going to be appended to Hume's autobiography as sort of a post-mortem, literally. And it's one of the most beautiful things in the world. It's almost worth reading the entire thing out loud. I won't do that. But, at the end, it's a gorgeous, inspiring paean to friendship and to decency.
And, a wonderful human being. Which is how he saw David Hume. I didn't realize till I read your book that that engendered a lot of controversy, because Smith, at the end--I think it's the last sentence, calls Hume, I think it's 'wise and virtuous. And so, this got Smith tangled up in a lot of--well, he didn't get tangled up because he didn't respond.
But, it stirred up a lot of controversy. So, talk about that. So, this is a work that--it is actually the only work other than Smith's two books that he published under his name, under his own name during his lifetime. A number of essays were published posthumously by his literary executors Notes, student notes from classes. I'm always horrified by the idea. People took what I thought by what my students write down during class?! But, in any case, we have so little to go with from Smith.
This is inevitable, I suppose. So, this is one of the three things he publishes in his lifetime. He kind of got Hume's permission to do this in advance. As Hume was dying he said, 'Hey, do you mind if I write a kind of addendum? Complete your story of your life by telling the story from where you leave off a couple of months before your death, up to your death? I give you entire liberty on this score. Now, because of Hume's--entirely deserved--reputation for impiety, his death is a really highly scrutinized event. Everybody around Britain is asking, 'So, how is Hume going do die?
Is he going to persist in his unbelief? Is he going to,' you know, 'recant his skepticism? How is he going to die? Yeah; Christopher Hitchens is kind of the modern version of this. People were wondering if his And there were actually a number of parallels drawn between his and Hume, when Hitchens died. Actually, quite a lot of similarities. And Hume--so, Smith gets, sort of right because he's Hume's best friend--gets right effectively the authorized version.
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He knows--both Hume and Smith know--how much people are going to care about this and pay attention to the way Hume dies. And so, Smith gets to write this authorized version. It's published right alongside 'my own life book' as a separate pamphlet and then as the preface to the future editions of Hume's works. And, throughout the work, Smith never really calls attention to Hume's impiety in this letter, the way, for instance, James Boswell, the famous deathbed interview, with Hume, really Hume is brash about religion in that interview as he is anywhere, in anything, we have recorded from him.
Smith doesn't--he records Smith--sorry, he records Hume, giving a little joke that seems irreligious. But he doesn't really flaunt Yeah, a tiny, tiny bit. Hume is, everybody knows he is this notorious infidel. Everybody is paying attention to this. And so what Smith does flaunt is the cheerfulness, the equanimity, of Hume's final days: Hume isn't worried in the least.
And then, yes, the concluding line which you alluded to, ended up being really one of the most fateful sentences Smith ever wrote. So, Smith says, in this concluding line that Hume--I'm going to just read a little sentence here, "Upon the whole, I have always considered him, both in his lifetime and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit.
So, this idea that his unbelieving friend, this avowed skeptic, is a paragon of wisdom and virtue generates just outrage among the devout. As one contemporary commented, it shocked every sober Christian. Smith later famously commented in one of the few letters that we have from him that this work, the letter to Strahan on Hume's death, 'brought on me 10 times more abuse than the very violent attack I've made on the whole commercial system of Great Britain. But even Smith scholars, I think very few know--they know he has suffered some abuse because of this line, 'the letter brought on me ten times more abuse.
And so I spend a whole chapter, Chapter 12, on this, documenting the often really quite vicious reactions to it. But, the leading critic was a guy named George Horn[? And this isn't just, you know, a momentary thing that a month or two people are criticizing him and then it's gone. Decades later, even well into the 19th century people are still criticizing Smith for this letter.
I knew nothing of that, and I really enjoyed that Chapter and the whole idea of it. It also made me realize, though, that I had failed to see a connection, in that last sentence--I was going to read it out loud myself, so I'm glad you read it--to The Theory of Moral Sentiments , which is that, Smith says in The Theory of Moral Sentiments that 'man naturally desires not only to be loved but to be lovely. And so, Smith says, that's the easy path; don't go that way. What you want to choose--he goes, that's tempting but it's not good for you.
The real way to be loved is to be 'wise and virtuous'. And, I don't know if I ever really noticed that that's the exact way he describes Hume, as the ideal. At least, I don't remember thinking that before, so I really appreciated that. Did you want to comment? I just wanted to say, it is really striking. He writes this whole moral theory; there's all this debate about how integral is religion on this moral theory; what kind of role does it play?
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I say at one point in the book in formulation I'm particularly proud of that Smith sees religion not as a foundation or even a pillar but rather as a buttress: It supports morality from the outside. Which is to say, for most people it is--he thinks religion is a buttress, virtue; people are more likely to act morally if they think the general rules of morality that their society has formed come from God.
He gives us more reason to hold these rules sacred. But, I don't think, in the structure of his moral theory that religion is a pre-condition--or, sorry, yes--that religion is a pre-condition for virtue. That you have to be religious in order to be virtuous.
But I think the letter to Strahan really drives home how dispensable it is. And I think it's really telling. Of course, it's only one data point. Which I think--Hume would point out: If you were going to look more generally. The only footnote I put to that, which--and I noticed that you didn't bring this in--because it happens to be one of my favorite passages, maybe my favorite passage in The Theory of Moral Sentiments: I would make a distinction between Smith's view of religion and Smith's view of God. When you said he's more of a deist than Hume, I think for sure that's true.
He certainly would invoke Providence or the author of nature. People have told me, 'Oh, he just did that to make people comfortable. I have no way of knowing that. The reason it's one of my favorites, if not my real Number One favorite, is that, to me this is the best description of the invisible hand as we understand it in our time.
Smith used the phrase 'invisible hand' three times that we have, right? And yet--and in those usages he didn't use the term the way we use it. It's related, but it's not the same thing. Yet, he wrote about the invisible hand--he just didn't call it that. And I think he did it, ironically most eloquently, in The Theory of Moral Sentiments when he said the following: He has made man, if I may say so, the immediate judge of mankind; and has, in this respect, as in many others, created him after his own image, and appointed him his vicegerent upon earth, to superintend the behaviour of his brethren.
So, that's Smith saying there's this underlying--and of course, it could be genetics, not God; it could come from God through genetics; you can interpret it any way you want. But here's Smith invoking a natural order--he's talking about sympathy and norms and the desire to be lovely and loved--that there's this inherent part of our nature that wants to be approved by others and to avoid disapproval, and therefore we're sort of a self-regulating police force without the punishments of Hell and the rewards of heaven.
So, I just thought that was a piece of Smith that, you didn't write about it, and I think is to be fair, whatever you want to call it, a deist part of Smith, it's certainly not organized religion per se. It is a part of Smith that appears to be believing. And he does, throughout The Theory of Moral Sentiments , he does, as you say, invoke this idea of a Providential Order, and he does generally at least describe the religious impulse in very sympathetic terms.
He worries about fanaticism and the like. But far more than Hume, he definitely thinks that belief in God, belief in an afterlife, have important practical benefits: On the other hand, I don't think any of his core arguments in the book really ultimately depend on religious premises. I think that--how does morality come about? It comes about through human sentiments, what an impartial spectator is, the arbiter of moral judgment--so that morality comes from us rather than from the word or will of God.
I also think a lot of the passages--maybe not the one you just read--many of the passages that invoke a Providential Order, are, if you look closely, worded evasively or ambiguously or hedged with qualifications. So, he's constantly saying, 'Well, we suppose God thinks this,' or 'It seems that God does that. So it's really--the book isn't about God, right? It's about moral theory. At bottom, it's a theory of human nature he's putting forward. It's a commentary on our emotional, our intellectual needs.
I'd also say--there's good reason to believe that the book was crafted in large part from his lectures to his students on moral philosophy. And, it's just simply expected in 18th century Scotland that professors, especially professors of moral philosophy, would be sufficiently religious--again, that's why Hume wasn't able to become one.
Smith, one of his first actions on arriving at Glasgow, was to ask to be freed from the customary duty of opening each day's class with a prayer; and this request was denied. So, he certainly couldn't have given overtly irreligious lectures to his students. I think similar pressures would have kept him from publishing an overtly irreligious book, at least while he remained a professor.
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On that note, it's worth also pointing out, that the book became less religious over time And I think it's telling that the first kind of softening or tempering of the religious undertones comes in the 3rd edition of , which is the first one that's published after he leaves Glasgow, and the religious duties and expectations that came with it. And then, the final, 6th edition of is less religious, still. So, I think there's some evidence within and sort of surrounding The Theory of Moral Sentiments that--I don't know how to put this--that gives us reason to believe that Smith wasn't quite as committed or ardent a believer as he's often thought to have been.
I also, I can talk about this if you want--I think there are other reasons: Basically, all of the evidence we have about what Smith thought beyond this book points to him being a bit more skeptical than you might think just based on The Theory of Moral Sentiments.
I don't know--I don't have a horse in the race. I just think--when I would read that passage to my students, the Christian ones don't like it. There's nothing Christian about it. And certainly he lived in a Christian time, a Christian society, where organized religion was much more important, certainly among the intellectual class, than it is today.
And, I just find it fascinating to think about his friendship with Hume--which is what much of your book is about: But, no matter how you want to put it, it's clear that Smith was not an advocate for organized religion in any intellectual way, although he saw some of its benefits, and of course its costs. And that of course raises the question of why. If Smith's views--again, I don't think he was an outright skeptic like Hume; he was--I call him a skeptical deist. But, why was he so much more reticent on these issues than Hume was? And, there's no way to answer this with any certainty a couple of centuries later.
It's easy, I think, to imagine a number of possibilities. So, maybe it's just a matter of temperament--that his temperament, he's predisposed to be more circumspect. Maybe he has more concern for his reputation, career, professional success. Maybe he sees religion as just a less important phenomenon than Hume, or a less dangerous phenomenon than Hume.
Maybe he thinks that the dangers of religion would be better combated through quiet neglect than open confrontation.
I think it's quite likely that he wanted to avoid offending his mother: And maybe it's just he saw what happened to Hume: He learned a lesson from Hume's relative outspokenness. And these, of course, aren't mutually exclusive. I think many of these are likely true. Let's close with the issue that you don't talk about explicitly but it emerges from the book, very appropriately that it emerges rather than making it explicit.
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I'm reading the book, and we have, if I'm correct, we have many more of Hume's letters to Smith than we have of Smith's letters to Hume. So, sometimes we have to infer from the Hume response what Smith might have said. And you use that idea in the book a number of times. But, what I was struck by--and you can't dispute the fact that they were great friends and you can't dispute the fact that they had an incredible amount of respect for each other--but, one of the themes that emerges in Hume's letters is, he's constantly begging Smith to move to Edinburgh.
When Smith's in Glasgow, in his professorship; or Smith might be in London; or Smith might be in Europe--and they overlap in France a little bit, and they overlap in Scotland and London. I think they overlap in London--is that right? But, it crossed my mind that--I'm not sure how much time they actually spent together.
They had a sort of modern friendship through--they didn't have the Internet; they had the mail; they had letters. But, they kind of sustained this friendship and its intensity at a distance through most of their life. Which is--we think of that as a modern phenomenon. You know, you go to college; you go off somewhere, and it's hard to stay in touch with your buddies, but some do and some don't. But you can do it through email now, Facebook.
And yet, here they were with their primitive, carriage-delivered letters, sustaining a friendship with only a limited amount of face-to-face time. Do we have any idea--do you have a rough estimate of how much time they actually saw each other on a regular, ongoing basis? I've never added it up. And it's also partly hard to tell, because we don't know--the evidence we have of Smith's day-to-day life is really quite limited. He's a terrible correspondent; he arranged to have all of his papers burned before he died, or almost all of them.
So, what Smith was doing on a day-to-day basis we don't really know. And so, one of the questions that I speculate about in the book but that we don't have hard evidence about is, when Hume is in Edinburgh and Smith is in Glasgow, which I true for, I don't know, a good decade--quite a long time--how much do they see each other? And I think it was probably more that Smith came to Hume rather than vice versa: So, how often did Smith make the trip?
We know that he made the trip periodically to go to various clubs that they were part of, almost sort of debating societies. There are various stories about, 'Oh, you could get Smith over here at a moment's notice. They improved the road and it took more like a half day by the end of his time in Glasgow. But, you know, it's really unclear how often he would make that trip, how often they were together.
Similarly, when Smith kind of retires--after going to France he retires to Kirkcaldy to work on the Wealth of Nations and Hume is in Edinburgh, they would have had to sail across the Firth of Forth, [? We don't really know. So, in terms of them living in the same city, it's really not much. It might add up to a year or two. In terms of how often do they see each other when they were in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kirkcaldy--you know, kind of in lower Scotland there--it's hard to say.
But it is--it's a good question. I didn't comment on it in the book, so, I wasn't sure what to make of it. How the friendship became that deep and that lasting--even at the very beginning of the friendship, they lived on opposite sides of Scotland.
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They, I think, first met when Smith was giving lectures at Edinburgh, so that there's a few months there. But it really wasn't long after they met until--I think it was--well, it might have been a year or two before Smith moved to Glasgow to start teaching there. Hume is constantly concocting schemes to try to get Smith--he says, 'I'll find an apartment for you. You could move here,' or, 'There's nobody in Edinburgh. You could come teach here,' and so forth. And then when, Hume, after he goes to France--he's lionized in Paris beyond belief and he's trying to decide where to settle; and Hume came to Smith, 'Well, I'm thinking of settling in Paris,' and Smith says, 'No, please, please God don't do that.
I don't want to stay in Paris. We can both settle in London; we can go visit together our friends in Scotland; we'll go visit together our friends in France; but let's live in London. They were constantly trying to figure out ways to live together but they never did. I think some of it is--it's personality. I think, from your portraits, Hume was a much more social animal. And Smith was a much more--absent-minded; he's famous for being absent-minded. Tyler Cowen I think has hinted that he might have been autistic.
I think he did that on EconTalk a long time ago. So, it could be he was a little uncomfortable with that level of social--he didn't want to go out for dinner every night with his friend. Maybe he wanted to be alone more. Maybe he had loyalty to his mom. But it's just striking that Hume is always the aggressor and Smith--he's not easily caught. The other thought I had is, you can be friends with someone intellectually like that because through their ideas, right? Someone can influence you in a way, way beyond the dinnertime and conversational experience, through the conversation you have through their books.
I always--I use this motif in my book on Adam Smith--the motif: Adam Smith is really kind of my friend. Certainly George Stigler, who was a big Smith fan, saw Smith as in some dimension as his friend, in some sense. Valid only on your first 2 online payments. Cashback will be credited as Amazon Pay balance within 10 days from purchase.
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